Features of Elizabethan Theatre
1. Plays were probably performed fast – not gabbling and rushing on and off stage, but without long breaks for scene changes, keeping the scenes going and playing the scenes with inner energy. Actors would have had to use their voices and bodies expressively to convey mood and meaning.
2. Good acting was probably natural, though ‘big’, with lots of energy and sexuality. Acoustics in the theatres meant that actors probably didn’t have to shout, but they would have had to speak clearly. Elizabethans may have talked more and more loudly than we do today, probably with lots of bowing, curtseying and hand-kissing. Their costumes, elaborate and restrictive, would have influenced how they moved.
3. Plays were performed in the afternoon because there was no lighting for night performances.
4. Stages were either round or polygonal, and open to the sky, though sometimes there was a canopy over the stage. Two doors at the back of the stage led to the dressing rooms. There were no curtains, so the audience could see everything that happened on stage.
5. Costumes were most likely to be fashionable and contemporary clothes which indicated the character’s status or profession.
6. Special effects were part of a performance, such as pig’s blood in a bladder hidden under clothes for a character who was going to be killed.
7. Shakespeare gave many of the stage directions in the actual text.
8. Shakespeare needs big acting. The actors were very close to the audience. Gestures were probably bigger than we use today. Actors also had to capture and hold the attention of the audience.
9. Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter (10 syllables to the line, with 5 strong and 5 weak beats) in blank verse or rhyming verse. Some of the text is in prose. Read aloud using the punctuation as a guide. Your speech shouldn’t sound as though you are performing poetry, but the beauty of the verse should be apparent.
10. Music and dancing were part of productions, as were sword fights, at which the Elizabethans were accomplished.
11. The ‘groundlings’ paid a small entry fee and stood immediately in front of the stage. Wealthier people bought seats in the galleries or sat on the stage.
12. Women were not allowed to act, so female parts were taken by young boys whose voices had not broken.